How To Pitch A Feature Film Part II: Pitch Decks & Look Books
As our Make Your Feature Competition submission period is coming to a close, we will be narrowing down our choices for the semi-finals. While the initial submission process only required a treatment of the film, the next round of selections will be based off of a virtual pitch to the community, as well as a few requisite presentation materials. The first is a beat sheet (covered in PART I of this series) along with an artistic primer (a statement describing the intended genre, visual style, similar films, approach to production, and tone of the film), and the second is a version of either a look book or proper pitch deck (both covered below).
What Is A Look Book?
A look book is a compilation of film stills and other visuals that communicate a filmmaker’s vision for their project. Cinematic elements such as composition, lighting, production design, and color help to convey the mood and tone of the film. Similarly, characters and setting can be rooted through casting choices and locations. A look book captures all of these artistic choices for inspiration (like a Pinterest board) while also concretely representing what the project is aiming to look and feel like. There is no singular way to create one but here are the potential items that can be visually delineated through one.
What Goes Into A Look Book?
- Basic Film Info (Logline / Synopsis / Character Descriptions...)
- Producer’s and/or Director’s Statement
- Spec Footage
- Color Palettes
- Lighting Examples
- Locations (Potential and Aspirational)
- Cameras, Lenses & Other Gear
- Casting Ideas
- Set Design
- Makeup & Hair
- Any Crucial Artistic Elements
What is a Pitch Deck?
The term "pitch deck" emerged from the startup culture of Silicon Valley as the premier mode of presentation that entrepreneurs used to pitch potential investors. Hollywood has followed suit with screenwriters using the format to pitch spec scripts and filmmakers using them to apply for grants or pitch their projects to potential investors and distributors. It has become an essential agent to complement a screenplay, further a film’s creative development, and communicate ideas, concepts, and imagery to potential collaborators.
A pitch deck goes beyond the look book (although a pitch deck can contain a look book within its structure) in that it reveals how the film will look and feel (tone, genre, style), who the film is for (audience), and why this film is special (inspiration, relevance to current times...). It is a deeper dive into the finer points of style, tone, visual inspiration, casting, location, and crew. And ultimately, it’s a sales presentation for a film. It should guide investors, distributors, donors and the like to visualize the project as well as gain a better understanding of who the filmmaker is.
You can tailor your pitch deck to accommodate your audience, but it is generally good to have one deck that can be accessed by anyone looking to fund, donate, distribute, or work with you on your film. For example, if you are clamoring to collaborate with a cinematographer on a particular project, they will be most interested in the look book portion of your deck, the locations you have in mind, any references to films that match the look you are going for, and any gear you are considering to achieve that look. However, a DP could also benefit from the complete pitch deck to garner the larger picture and be able to make an informed decision on whether they think they can contribute their best to the endeavor.
A note from Sam Mestman: The bottom line is to not lose sight of the fact that you are selling your vision. Don't get lost in the weeds. You need to explain the WHY of this movie, why this STORY, why this FILMMAKER, why does the world need this movie? You also need to sell the plan on how this movie is doable and how you will deliver on what you say you can pull off. Your slides should match up with the world you are building. Sell us on the world. Connect the left brain and the right brain and let us know who your target audience is.
If there were to be a “master list” of items to add to a pitch deck, it would be the following:
- The Basics (Title / Logline / Synopsis)
These are the key elements of being able to pitch a film. The logline is essentially your “elevator pitch” and the synopsis gives the audience an idea of what to expect from the story.
- Artistic Statements from the Writer / Producer / Director
Also known as a “statement of intent,” a written artistic statement from at least one of the above helps generate interest in the film by allowing a peek into the mind(s) of the filmmakers. What is the creative impetus, the vision, and the inspiration behind telling this particular story? What is “the story” behind the story being told? What films and filmmakers inspire the artist undertaking this endeavor? It all provides context and hints at the direction the filmmaker wants to take the film in.
- Filmmaker / Team Bios
Filmmaking is a collaborative art so the team assembled to help execute the vision of the filmmaker highly impacts the outcome of the project. The bios should be comprehensive but not laborious, serving to highlight any relevant and notable accomplishments, expressing a point of view, and touching upon a few bits of background on the team. And of course, include headshots or team members in their element on set to accompany their bios.
- Character Descriptions & Casting
Along with the breakdown of primary characters, it is important to share a visual reference. This can be aspirational (ie: a character “like” so and so from film x) or actors already cast in the roles. If a film is already cast, share the actual cast members’ bios and headshots.
- Technical Aspects
Information like aspect ratio, color vs. black and white, run time, etc would go here. Some of this information may not be known or available prior to completing the film, but it certainly helps for the distribution stage.
- Lookbook / Mood Board
This may be one of the primary reasons to create a pitch deck. Film is a visual medium and so the pitch deck should be as well. What is the coloring of the film and how will that impact the tone and feel of the film? What type of shots and movement is to be incorporated in the film? Will it be loud and punchy or understated and slow-panning? What type of light will be used? How will all these components collectively make your audience feel? Compile as many references from other works of art (magazines, films, television shows, music videos...) to infuse into this portion of the deck, or if the film is already shot, grab screenshots from the film itself. This is the main “show, don’t tell” facet of the deck so use images to convey your message instead of words.
Note: These types of images should be littered throughout the presentation but having them appear in a dedicated section of the deck leaves an unmistakable impression in itself.
- Locations & Set Design
Where the film is shot determines so much of the logistics as well as mood and tone. The setting is the backdrop of the film, and sometimes even another character in the film. Nothing should be arbitrary about selecting where to shoot your project. Also, the way a location is dressed through set design can make all the difference in establishing the world the characters inhabit. If you want to communicate a mood, the surroundings the characters live in have an impact.
- Costumes, Hair & Makeup, & Other Artistic Contributions
Similar to location, lighting, camera movement, and other technical details, aesthetic choices in the realm of costuming, hair design, and makeup design can go very far in creating the world and contextualizing the characters.
Concepts around a score or any music used throughout the project can also help build tension or bring levity to the visuals. Music (or its intentional absence) in general is a powerful filmmaking tool that helps shape the emotional journey of the characters throughout any project. The goal with any artistic elements that are being chosen is to convey how you as the filmmaker are making a film that is unique. Your pitch deck communicates the techniques that will be employed to achieve that vision?
- Preliminary Budget
There’s no need to provide a full line budget here, but a basic breakdown of where funds are being allocated and how much will be required to acquire the fundamentals for the shoot and for post-production (yes, you must plan for this in pre-production!) is a must. Make sure to include any in-kind donations as well. Do you have free locations? Are you inheriting gear that will help cut costs? Is someone’s mom providing lunch for the set on a day or two? Is your best friend cutting the film? These are all things that need to be factored into the budget.
- Distribution Goals, Social Media, Sizzle Reels & “Proof of Concepts”
It is imperative to know who your audience is when you set out to make a film. You should also have an idea of what platforms you are aiming for your film to get seen. Include a statement around these aspirations in your artistic statement or in some other fashion somewhere in your pitch deck. Having a strong social media presence is paramount as well and should begin in pre-production, so sharing the handles for all the platforms your film is on in your deck is a no brainer. Lastly, if you have any footage from the film in the form of a trailer, a short film that preceded the feature film, or another proof of concept that showcases the visual elements of what you are setting out to do, include links!
A good pitch deck should leave the investor, distributor, or donor feeling like they know exactly what your film will look and feel like. It should inspire confidence in your vision, your team, and your collective abilities. They should not get lost in a wall of text or dialogue, but instead be given a taste of the visual palette they should expect from the film. A standard film pitch deck is formatted as a series of slides (Keynote, Canva, Affinity are all solid choices to create one in) and is often shared as an exported PDF. Online, interactive, and web-based decks are also gaining traction, though having a simple PDF version for easy sharing is indispensable.
Now, go forth and make the film that you want to see!
Written by Sapna Gandhi
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.